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14th Oct 2015

“The best in the world” – Donnacha Ryan pays tribute to Paul O’Connell

But he won't miss Paulie's bowel movements

Mikey Stafford

Having battled in the trenches with him for many years, Donnacha Ryan has described the end of Paul O’Connell’s Test career as “very, very sad”.

However the Munster and Ireland second-row -who may replace O’Connell in the team for Sunday’s clash with Argentina if Iain Henderson move to 6 – has backed the Toulon-bound lock to play on for at least two more years. If not five!

Having himself battled back from a persistent foot injury to make the Irish World Cup squad, Ryan today described his own emotions when he saw his friend and team-mate felled with an excruciating hamstring injury in the win over France.

“It was devastating to see from up in the stands. He went in to poach for a ball and obviously lads came in to ruck him out, and came down over the top of him.

“You could see immediately from his face that he was wincing in pain and he would only rarely do that, even at the worst of times,” said the 31-year-old.

“So yeah, look, it’s very, very sad. I trained with him, played with him every day of the week, he’s a fantastic role model and just to be hanging around him all the time, all the habits I’ve learned over the years.

“And it’s very sad to think the final image of Paul O’Connell in an Irish jersey would be him in a wheelchair, being taken out the back of the stadium. That was very sad.”

International Friendly 27/8/2011 Ireland vs England Ireland's Donnacha Ryan and Paul O'Connell at the end of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan *** Local Caption ***

O’Connell’s place in the pantheon of Irish players has been debated since it became apparent he had made his last appearance in the green jersey but Ryan was unequivocal when asked how he rates his inspirational former Munster team-mate.

“He is still, and always will be, a fantastic player. He’s the best in the world, and the best compliment I could pass him is that every time I was playing with him, I was never really occupied with my opposite number.

“It was more a question of trying to match the player alongside me and try to perform the same as he was. I knew that if I did, I’d be in a good place.

“He’ll be sorely missed but he’s still a great mate so hopefully we’ll see him again soon.”

Having won a Heineken Cup with O’Connell in 2008 and played at the 2011 World Cup, Ryan has countless good memories but couldn’t resist a little toilet humour as he contemplated what he would not miss about the 34 year old.

“He’s very articulate and specific in his delivery when he wants to deliver a speech or convey something to guys. He’s very good to give a quiet word to guys as well, which is massive, especially from a guy as experienced as him,” he said.

“And the one thing I won’t miss is the bowel-movements before the games! That’s the other side of it, but he’s a big loss from a character point of view,” added Ryan.

2015 Rugby World Cup, Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Newport High School, Wales 9/10/2015 Donnacha Ryan and Paul O'Connell Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The Tipperary man admits O’Connell was one of the reasons he persevered with Munster, even when he could not get a look-in early in his career because of the continued excellence of O’Connell and his long-term partner in the second-row, Donncha O’Callaghan.

“I was maybe considering leaving Munster – and he was a huge incentive to stay. When you’re training and playing with the best in the world every day of the week it does make you better, and the habits he has are infectious to you, and that’s made me a far better player”

While Ryan did back O’Connell to follow in Anthony Foley and Ronan O’Gara’s footsteps and flourish as a coach, he was not drawing a line under his playing career just yet.

“He’s got another two years in his career. He’s actually in incredible nick, so he could probably keep going for another five!

“He’s a very smart guy so I think he’ll be successful in whatever he turns his hand to, be that coaching or anything else.

“He’s a very keen student on every aspect of life, a very interesting individual. So I think he’d be a fantastic coach if he wanted to go down that route, but there’s a lot more mileage for him to do in the meantime.”

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